A poetry collection that presents us with the aftermath of 2017’s catastrophic Hurricane Irma, taking us way beyond the ruins left by the storm, has now taken home the 2020 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature.
Epiphaneia, by Trinidad-born, British Virgin Islands–resident Richard Georges, is the third book of poetry to win the most prestigious international annual award for Caribbean writing since it was established ten years ago.
Renowned T&T writer Earl Lovelace, himself a previous winner of the OCM Bocas Prize and this year’s chief judge, made the announcement online via an online video in a novel virtual presentation on the evening of Saturday 2 May. Joining Lovelace on the final judging panel for the prize were historian Bridget Brereton, writer and linguist Barbara Lalla, and literary scholar Laurence Breiner.
Sponsored by One Caribbean Media, the prize comes with an award of US$10,000, and will be presented to the winner at a special prize ceremony during the annual festival, the NGC Bocas Lit Fest, due to take place from 18 to 20 September, having been postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Epiphaneia was chosen by the judges from a shortlist of the three books previously selected as category winners: Edwidge Danticat’s short story collection Everything Inside — the best book of fiction by a Caribbean writer in 2020 — and Tessa McWatt’s Shame on Me, a study of race, identity, and belonging — the best non-fiction book of 2020 by a Caribbean author. Danticat and McWatt will receive awards of US$3,000 each.
In his judge’s remarks, Earl Lovelace commented: “Responses to catastrophe frequently take in evasion or cynicism: despair or glib resolution. Often they confine themselves in the familiar shapes of narrative, lamentation, or outrage. These poems take no such predictable shapes. It is as if each verse-form were a different lens for viewing the storm and the life in its aftermath. What makes these offerings so poignant is that many of them are lit with the brilliant light of the day-after. That epiphanic light of discovery is Richard Georges’s gift to us. We are delighted to acknowledge this accomplishment by one of the region’s phenomenal generation of younger poets.”
Previously longlisted for the OCM Bocas Prize, Georges is also the author of the poetry collections Make Us All Islands and GIANT. He is the recipient of the 2016 Marvin E. Williams Literary Prize from The Caribbean Writer, and has been shortlisted for he Wasafiri New Writing Prize, the Small Axe Literary Competition, the Hollick Arvon Caribbean Writers Prize, and the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. His third collection of poems, Epiphaneia, is published by Out-spoken Press. In addition to writing poems which have been widely anthologised, Georges works in higher education, and is a founding editor of Moko magazine and a Fellow of the Stellenbosch Institute of Advanced Study.
2020 is the tenth year of the OCM Bocas Prize. In 2019, the prize was won by Trinidadian writer Kevin Adonis Browne for his non-fiction book High Mas: Carnival and the Poetics of Caribbean Culture.
Other past winners are Jennifer Rahim for her short story collection Curfew Chronicles (2018); Kei Miller for the novel Augustown (2017); Olive Senior for the short fiction collection The Pain Tree (2016); Vladimir Lucien for the debut poetry collection Sounding Ground (2015); Robert Antoni for the novel As Flies to Whatless Boys (2014); Monique Roffey for the novel Archipelago (2013); and Earl Lovelace for the novel Is Just a Movie (2012). The late Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott was winner of the inaugural prize in 2011, for the poetry collection White Egrets.